School Board Official ‘Bought’?

money-40603_1280When is it a conflict of interest for a district school board member’s campaign to be financed by a charter school management company and its associates?

The Tampa Bay Times reports that one third of a Hillsborough school board member’s 2016 election campaign is financed by the charter sector.   Contributions to local school board candidates from charter advocacy groups is becoming a national strategy.  Is this democracy in action or something more sinister?  The issue is complicated by questions about the meaning of public education.





Since charter schools are exempt from most rules and regulations governing public schools, and run by private agencies, should they even be represented on elected district school boards? This is not a theoretical question.  Nor is there an easy answer.  Charter schools are called public schools, but they have their own individual policy boards that are responsible for their operation.  By legislative design, district school boards have only nominal oversight of charter schools.

Basically, charters must report financial emergency conditions, but the lack of daily regulation of charters is well documented by any number of sources.  See for exampleFlorida Charter Schools Unsupervised.  Not only are charters shielded from close scrutiny, too often charter board members are also either uninformed about or personally involved in their management companies’ business practices.

Are privately owned and managed charters serving the public interest?  The Center for Public Education characterizes public school as one which provides the following:

  • tuition free education for all students
  • promise of equal educational opportunities…
  • commitment to high standards and high expectations for all students
  • system of governance that ensures public accountability
  • benefit to society by teaching democratic principles and common values

Charters do not meet all of these criteria.  Jeb Bush has a ‘new‘ definition of public schools:

  • no more assigned schools
  • reward success and weed out failing schools
  • money follows the student

Local communities are in a conundrum.  School boards are intended to represent all public schools but the system is contradictory.  Much of the charter sector replaces public interest with private business interests.  When these business interests influence elections through campaign contributions and lobbying, whose interest is being served?  What can local school boards really do to rectify the problems?  None of this is new; it is a reflection of the political process long practiced in state and national elections.  If the public interest is to be served, the public must be engaged.












Posted in Advocacy, Charter Schools, Florida, Legislation, Public Education.


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  2. Hi Sue,
    I think you make some important points here.

    Here’s my question. Charter school enrollment trends are heading in one direction: Up. Behind those trends are the conscious decisions of more than 3 million parents nationally, who appear to favor what charter schools have to offer. There is no community I’m aware of where charter school enrollment has seen a sustained decline.

    But you’re right. In a world where charter schools are ascendant, and schools have to compete, somebody needs to serve not only as a referee to ensure fair competition, but as a guardian of the public interest. And in most places (certainly in Florida), that somebody needs to be the local school board, or an entity under its control.

    If we look at cities where charter schools have flourished, are performing better academically than they are in Florida, and where scandals, sudden closures, and profiteering have been kept to a minimum, the DC Public Charter School Board looks like a potential model. It’s a local entity, controlled by city government (an equivalent model in Florida would place it under control of the local school board and/or superintendent). Members are appointed with staggered terms, to help insulate them from political influence, campaign contributions, etc. It’s tasked with vetting new schools that apply to open, and with shutting down schools that fail to live up to their performance contracts.

    What would you think about trying that kind of approach in Florida?

    • Travis,
      I will give your suggestion serious thought. I was concerned about Senator Brandes’ bill to create city charter systems. Dividing counties into property tax rich cities and much poorer rural areas would make everything worse. Coordinating county-wide boards with local school boards would have its challenges, but at least this is the kind of discussion that we all should be having.


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